Growing up, I remember my mother frequently quoting the “Serenity Prayer”. Although, I would say she was mostly muttering a wish under her breath, and her version of the prayer usually ended with the word “idiot!”
In my life, I have adopted a similar philosophy that I call “The Whatever File”. There are some things that I am powerless to change, and for better or worse, I must accept. In those situations, any effort spent in opposition is wasted, and most likely will lead to frustration for me and others. The faster I can determine that a situation is intractable, the quicker I can reprioritize my efforts. Depending on the options available, I can either switch into a mode of mitigation, or move on to another project where I can make a difference. In the meantime, I’ll file the issue away in my memory under “whatever”. In time I may see that it really wasn’t that important, or I may find another way to deal with it.
However, letting go is not always easy. One of my mentors and heroes is quick to say, “Is this the hill that you want to die on?”, that is, is it really worth the fight? Most things are not as important as we might think. It helps in these situations to take a step back and consider the costs in terms of time, money and influence spent to achieve the results we want. In most cases, an “almost what we want” situation would work, and be a more effective use of your resources. Be open to compromises and input from others. In the end, you might end up with a better solution than your original thought.
Always giving in is not the answer either. That strategy can lead to passive aggressive behavior—not a good thing. By lessening your resolve today, you may enable a win tomorrow.
The Laws of Thermodynamics dictate the outcomes of reactions based on the conditions at hand. Changes in variables yield different results. Circling back to the beginning of this article, I can say that some of the variables will be within my control and others will not. I can also say that my influence over a subset of variables may change over time. Less pretentiously…sometimes things get better if you wait. Getting what you want may be as simple as waiting for others to figure out that you were right.
Another one of my mentors is fond of quoting Harry S. Truman, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Too many times we get hung up on the credit that we receive for an idea, when usually, that idea is based on the ideas of other people. Sharing credit or giving it away may be the currency needed to progress your ideas, even if your advancement is delayed in the short-term. Instead of thinking about “giving away” your ideas, change your perspective to “karma investments” for your long-term success. While it is true that people are most likely to get ahead from getting credit for successful ideas, it is also true that many past geniuses are unknown to us, because they held on too tightly to their idea. The value of an unknown idea or an unimplemented plan is nothing, so giving away an idea may be the best way to ensure its value. Sharing the idea, and credit for it, will also increase your social value in aggregate. After all, this is not likely to be your last creative thought.
With time comes wisdom, so periodically I revisit my “whatever” files. Some of the files will be discarded, others will be optimized, and others still will be refiled for another day. In any case, having a whatever file allows me to move on from an immediate frustration and push on to a potential solution.
David Harwell is the Assistant Director for Industry Member Programs at the American Chemical Society.
Views expressed on this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS. Comments on posts are encouraged; however, foul or derogatory language will be rejected.